With the land rush of NFL free agency under a month away, the Houston Texans are working hard to handle internal housecleaning, and bringing back their own free agents that they want to see continue as part of this team's core nucleus and role player fringe. On Wednesday, they brought back one key role player along the defensive front — Bill O'Brien would almost assuredly call him a "smart, tough, dependable fabric type of guy" — defensive tackle Brandon Dunn.
Dunn deal. ?— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) February 19, 2020
The #Texans have signed NT Brandon Dunn to a contract extension.
According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Dunn's deal is a three year deal for $12 million (guaranteed money, not disclosed, and that's ultimately what matters), which seems a bit pricy for a guy who is a two-down lunch pail player (the Texans' non-Watt defensive linemen literally call themselves the "Lunch Pail Crew"), but O'Brien seems to be in the mode of rewarding guys he likes, so it is what it is. Congrats to Dunn, who by all accounts, is a great guy, and who also serves the crucial function of locker room D.J.
D.J. Funny is his nickname, and he got the ultimate shout out after his deal from Watt:
Pretty cool, but the juicy part of that tweet is not the congratulatory salvo toward Dunn, but instead the plea to management to bring back defensive tackle D.J. Reader, who like Dunn was prior to yesterday, is approaching free agency, and doesn't appear to be nearly as close on a deal as Dunn apparently was. Reader is believed to be on the cusp of commanding $11 million to $12 million per year on the open market, and to this point, the Texans have not pushed their offers into that neighborhood.
Watt and Reader have a very close friendship, so it will be interesting to see how that one plays out, and see if Watt has any pull over what the O'Brien-led personnel regime decides to do with their rising nose tackle in Reader. To this point, as general manager/contract-giver-outer, O'Brien has been overly generous with guys he sees as "his type of guy" — think Nick Martin, Whitney Mercilus, now Dunn. Reader, though, may have played his way into a tax bracket in 2019 that is just too rich for a team that has so many other holes to fill on the defensive side of the football.
The others, not named Reader, to watch over the next four weeks leading up to free agency, which begins the week of March 16:
BRADLEY ROBY, CB
Roby came to Houston on a one year, $10 million "prove it" deal, and while he was probably banged up more than he and O'Brien would have hoped, when he was on the field, he was very impactful. My sense is that the Texans will let Roby walk, and find veteran CB help in the free agency market.
CARLOS HYDE, RB
Hyde was a revelation in 2019, notching the first 1,000 yard season of his career, after being essentially dumped to the Texans for offensive line bust Martinas Rankin. This will come down to money, as Hyde will be 30 next season, and will never see his value higher than it is right now. I could see the Texans replacing Hyde with a young RB in the draft.
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ZACH CUNNINGHAM, ILB
Cunningham has a year left on his rookie deal, which is about the time the Texans engage guys they see as future building blocks in contract talks. Cunningham is an ascending player, who had his best season in 2019, and could command upwards of $12 million per year. The Texans should absolutely want to keep Cunningham, but I am skittish about having SO much invested in inside linebacker, when you add in Bernardrick McKinney's contract.
LAREMY TUNSIL, LT
There may be no player in the league with more leverage in contract talks than Tunsil, who was sent to Houston from Miami for a haul that included the Texans' first round picks in 2020 and 2021. Tunsil made his first Pro Bowl in 2019, in part because you get more attention playing with Deshaun Watson than playing for the Dolphins. Tunsil still has his fifth year option coming up in 2020, but my guess is both sides want to get a deal done to make Tunsil the highest paid tackle in football.
DESHAUN WATSON, QB
Speaking of highest paid in football, Watson is three seasons in, so he is now eligible for a big contract extension as well. The only way this deal doesn't get done is if Watson digs in on money, but he should wind up the highest paid player in the league when he signs, assuming Patrick Mahomes hasn't signed yet. The benefit of a franchise QB on a rookie deal is about to turn into dust for the Texans. Well, at least we will always have that Buffalo win.